Students will learn remotely after asbestos discovered in West Oak Lane's Building 21 school

Students at a Philadelphia high school were abruptly moved to remote learning when the presence of asbestos was found in the building during a Tuesday night inspection. 

The Building 21 School in the city's West Oak Lane section will remain closed for the rest of the week after asbestos was found in stairwells and the auditorium. 

The School District of Philadelphia says it's working to clear the hazardous material, but they did not offer a timetable about when the job will be complete.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, a dozen Philadelphia schools closed between 2019 and 2020 due to the presence of asbestos. District teachers say it's a health hazard that must be addressed. 


"You come in here, and you try to teach the kids, but you've got to worry about your own health, and their health, and there ain't nothing being done," Robert Smith said. 

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan says a lack of funding for school maintenance has caused problems like asbestos to keep reoccurring. 

"Our buildings have been neglected because of the lack of budget to keep them in good repair, this unfortunately happened," Jordan said.

A recent court decision in Pennsylvania called state funding of Philadelphia school unconstitutional, but Senator Vincent Hughes has crafted a bill that he believes will provide appropriate funding.

"It provides $1B to fix up toxic and broken schools, it provides $2.15B – the largest increase in equity and adequacy funding in Pennylvania's history – to make our schools in compliance with the state's constitution," Senator Hughes said. 

He was optimistic that he could get newly-elected Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro to sign the bill, citing a $6B state budget surplus and a $5B so-called rainy day fun. Proponents of the bill insist that gobs of money are necessary to properly fix schools like Building 21, which was built in 1916, and other decades old buildings.